Corporate Travel Survey Shows Greater Willingness For Business Trips

American Airlines Business class passenger
Credit: American Airlines

Most people are willing to travel for business after being vaccinated against COVID-19, a new survey indicates. 

The study, conducted by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), provides some indication that forecasts projecting the permanent demise of business travel may be too pessimistic.

In the GBTA survey, released Feb. 18, 79% of those polled said they would be “very comfortable” or “comfortable” traveling for business after being vaccinated, although almost half support mandatory testing before travel.

While corporate travel levels are still at historic lows—with 64% of companies having canceled or suspended domestic trips, and 89% of them having canceled or suspended international trips—the survey seems to point to a growing desire to resume business travel in the right conditions.

Fifty-five percent of GBTA buyer and procurement members feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment, a significant increase from the 49% who were willing/very willing in a GBTA January poll. Just 17% of the buyer and/or procurement members feel their employees are unwilling to travel for business at the present time. Twenty-six percent of companies also said they plan to resume domestic business travel “in the near future”—up 10 percentage points from a month earlier.

Border closures and restrictions were cited as the reason for reduced business travel by 68% of GBTA members and stakeholders, while 56% said the restrictions and closures increased confusion and uncertainty about when business travel could resume. 

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed support airlines requiring passengers provide proof of vaccination to fly once vaccines become more readily available. Europeans are more likely than Americans to support proof of vaccination to (65% versus 54%) and 43% say border closures and restrictions have impacted their company recovery efforts in 2021. 

Mandatory testing for business travel is widely supported, those surveyed said, because people feel it would enable safe face-to-face meetings, likely indicating an important driver of why people want to resume corporate travel. This appears to weaken the argument that, in a post-pandemic world, companies will continue to rely on cheaper virtual meetings rather than return to in-person meetings.

The survey does not offer airlines any near-term relief, however. The large majority of GBTA member companies, 89%, have not re-opened international travel and 64% continue to cancel or suspend domestic travel. Seventy-six percent of them continue to suspend or cancel all business travel regardless of location. 

But vaccination roll-out programs appear to be prompting people and companies to be thinking once more about when—not if—they might resume work travel.

“It is reassuring to hear so much discussion around business travel resuming and a change in sentiment from 16% to 25% of GBTA members and stakeholders who have resumed some domestic business travel in the last month,” GBTA interim executive director Dave Hilfman said. 

An updated report released by the Airlines for America (A4A) association Feb. 19 noted that corporate ticket sales in the U.S. are still down 85.7% versus the same time in 2019. Across all segments, ticket sales are down 66.6%, showing how the corporate travel recovery lags far behind leisure.

In a 2020 fourth quarter earning call with analysts at the end of January, American Airlines chief revenue officer Vasu Raja said corporate travel was down to just 5-10% of historical levels, but he was “very optimistic” it would return as vaccines are distributed. However, the timing and rate of return was unclear at best, Raja said.

“In a world where corporate travel is slow to come back, what we’ve really tried to do is make the airline as nimble as possible so that we can go and create as much connectivity where there is travel demand,” Raja said. 

Karen Walker

Karen Walker is Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief and Aviation Week Network Group Air Transport Editor-in-Chief. She joined ATW in 2011 and oversees the editorial content and direction of ATW, Routes and Aviation Week Group air transport content.